Sunday, October 28, 2012

SteamCon IV - Where There Were Monsters

Steam Con IV is over and we're all trapped firmly in the mundane world once more. However. For a few brief days, the Hyatt in Bellevue was the site of an in invasion of hideous (but polite!) Victorian monsters and those that hunt the diabolical creatures. Enough chatter. On to the photos! Behold, Baba Yaga! And a well dressed mummy - note her mummified companion at her side.
Dr. Jekyll and the nortorious creature, Hyde. A very small dragon invaded the mercantile at one point causing a stampede as the shoppers were lured in by the creature's fiendish cuteness.

Medusa and the brave Perseus (AKA Mike and Casey Spence) Also, a glimpse of a pair of monster hunters - loaded for whatever danger might wander into their sites.

This man is on stilts. In costume. Playing a bagpipe. The blurry is invalid.

Below, we have the Vampire Rhiannon and the lovely Lady Anna K. Sunnamun, explorer, late of Egypt. (AKA Rhiannon and Melissa Thornley)

And here, we have the entire crew. From left to right: Emily Olesin, Casey Spence (Medusa), in the pith helmet Mike Spence (Perseus), in front Keith Burnard, Rhiannon Thornley, Melissa Thornley, Melissa Denny and Alden Denny.
I was a Victorian Black Widow. Sadly for a number of people, they mistook me for the superhero variety rather than the arachnid and thus venomous type. The costume wasn't elaborate, but the tragedy is that I don't sew and the great bulk of my creative impulse appears to be reserved for writing stories. It took a very long time for me to complete the pattern I'd chosen. We won't talk about the number of seams I had to rip out because I'd misunderstood a set of instructions. Nor will we discuss the blood that I may have shed from sticking myself with pins during the constuction phase.
From fabric, to half sewn objects.

To completed outfit (without accesories) to the con where the vampire and I were caught conferring about the relative merits of poisoned bites.

Join us next year for SteamCon V. The theme is Around the World. Costumes are optional, thought clothing is not, but costumes are a good portion of the fun.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

One of the Dangers of Boating

A day of fishing turned deadly this past Friday. It was a clear, blue, sunny October day. Two men took their 16' aluminum boat out for a day of fishing in the water just outside of Shilshole Bay Marina. At 4pm, they were a mile or so from the breakwater when a 44' power boat collided with them. Their fishing boat capsized. Both men went into the frigid water.

One of them suffered a heart attack and could not be revived. The other man was pulled from the water and is recovering from his injuries.

I won't post the photos. Some of them can be distressing (no photos of the people - but the overturned boat being towed by the Coast Guard and the damage to the fishing boat are heartbreaking enough, especially knowing that the accident cost a man his life.) If, however, you want to understand what  kind of damage a collision like this can do, click here - this is KIRO 7's coverage - photos and video.

The investigation into what cased the collision is ongoing, so there's no point in trying to place blame. I wanted to mention this accident because when you're on the water, collisions and near collisions are far more common than you might think. Boaters have insane lists of rules for right of way. The link takes you to just one site dedicated to a summary of the rules, but allow me to boil this down.

Rule 1. Know the navigation rules and follow them.

But when that fails, see:
Rule 2. The safety of your vessel and everyone on it is your responsibility. Do whatever is necessary to avoid a collision so long as your action endangers no one else.

The School of Dad (where I learned to sail) put it this way: "You can hollar that you had right of way the entire time you're sinking."  Yes. Collisions happen. People die. In Washington State, a number of people die in boating accidents every year. Most of those accidents involve alcohol and drowning. Sometimes, it's collision and loss of boats and sometimes loss of life. There's a lot of water out there, but not so much that you can allow your attention to stray when you're at the helm.

If you're writing fiction, a collision, especially at night or in low visibility conditions (fog, rain, snow), is a perfectly valid disaster to have befall your characters. Have a look at current conditions and water temperature conditions for your region.There are places in Washington State and up into Canadian waters where the currents run so hard and fast that if someone goes in, the chances of survival are slim to none. Point of interest: Most of the water north of Washington state is warmer than it is at the Washington coast. Here's the NOAA guide for water temperature observations for most of the nation. Though, I'm linking you directly to the page for Seattle and surrounding waters. Click on the nav menu on the left to find other areas of the nation.

If you go out on the water for real, remember your life jackets, please. And remind everyone on board to help you keep watch for other vessels.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Boats and Electricity

I owe you a post about power boats - I will post it. I swear. It's a bigger subject than I'd originally thought. In the meantime, however, I bring you this: Photo of something you never, ever want to see on YOUR boat.

How to burn your boat to the waterline in one easy step: Don't check your connection to shore power on a regular (at least weekly) basis. The photo above is the result of that. If you don't want to lose the boat to fire, check your plugs! Oh. And if you *think* you smell something burning? Check the shore power connection.

Most boats have batteries. The bigger the boat, the bigger the battery bank. Cabin lights, sailing instruments and running lights all operate from the batteries. However, while boats are in dock, most of us are also hooked into shore power. This recharges the batteries, but it also allows us to run computers, our refrigerator, and anything else that requires a regular plug to operate (like heaters). Shore power connections are exposed to the elements. This isn't usually an issue - think of your outdoor holiday light displays. These plugs and the cords are designed for outdoor use and they serve reliably for years.

The problem is that when these cords fail (and they will, it's just a matter of time) they almost always fail at the BOAT end (the picture above) not on the dock end. When they fail, it's almost always in the fashion shown in the photo - heat, melting and scorching from runaway current. Boat fires can and do start this way. Yes. That picture is of our plug. Once I found this scorch, we did not plug back in - we immediately went to the marine store and bought a new shorepower plug solution called SmartPlug. (I'm not affiliated with the company in any way, shape or form - we just picked it for safety reasons that made sense to us.) We went that route because those plugs have fuses and temperature sensors. If heat builds up in the plug, the fuse trips and shuts down all current. This makes it much harder to burn down the boat.

It's amazing how I took electricity for granted until we moved aboard a boat. To a certain extent, I still do - the power just shows up ready for me to plug into at the dock stand. But the line into the boat is 100% our responsibility and there's clearly maintenance - even if it's just checking the connection from time to time - required to keep everyone and everything safe.

The nice part, if you're writing fiction, is that you now have a believable disaster that could befall your fictional boaters. (Note: I knew we had a problem because our 'Reverse Polarity' light came on in the onboard electrical panel. So if you want to rescue your boater before the boat catches fire - you can have one of them see the red Reverse Polarity light shining and question it. For the record, the rest of our electrical panel indicators are green - that one's the only red light.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Release Day for The Hallowed Ones

Let's get the BUY link out of the way, shall we? This book is by the fabulous Laura Bickle - you may have read her other books, Embers or Sparks, or possibly Dark Oracle or Rogue Oracle.

From Amazon's description of the book:

"Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning."

The writing is gorgeous, even more so when the scenes are intense and chilling. I love this book and this heroine. I hope you do, too.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Science For the Win

Proof that science is the greatest thing just about ever. Liquid nitrogen. 1500 ping pong balls. Epic.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

National Night Out

It was National Night Out last night, August 7. Our local law enforcement, Port of Seattle Police, come out to the marina, set up the grills and cook up all the hot dogs and hamburgers marina patrons can shovel down.

They bring all the coolest tech they have for us to drool over. This year, we got to tour the Harbor Patrol jet boat. I learned that the police divers in Puget Sound wear dry suits exclusively (our water is freaking cold) by OSHA regulation. Apparently, our water is also of questionable enough quality that the divers are required to wear full face masks, too. This works out, because the divers then have voice communication to one another and to the boat at the surface.

The SWAT truck was back - one that I'm happy to say only comes to Shilshole for this yearly show and tell event. New to me this year was the bomb disposal unit and the robots the police use.
The older robot is on the right (near the cab of the truck. A brand new model is on the far left. Again, this public relations event is the only time we've ever seen the bomb disposal unit out near our boats and most of us living aboard would really, really like to keep it that way.

The Port of Seattle encompasses not just our marina, but the whole commercial shipping industry and Seatac Airport. Most of this high tech gear spends the bulk of the year out at the airport and occassionally inspecting shipping containers. One officer told us that most of their 'bomb' calls are in response to people screwing around with chemicals in the garage - home made fireworks and improvised explosives. So be careful with those chemistry sets and when you're watching the Youtube videos about how to build your own fireworks? Think about the ignominy of having to explain to your homeowner's insurance agent just why the bomb disposal unit was parked in front of your place (when there wasn't a National Night Out BBQ taking place).

We enjoy this event every year. Since we've been to four out of the past five years (cruising last year made us miss), we're beginning to recognize officers and several have begun to recognize us. The officer who mentioned he definitely recognized me, laughed and assured me it's a good thing. I hadn't wondered until he said that. :)

The event is about building relationships and trust with the community. Officers make a special effort to interact with the children - sure most of them have kids of their own and are genuinely fond of children - but it's also a terrific way for them to put young children at ease around officers in uniform in a safe setting. The liveaboards at Shilshole, including our youngest residents, turn out en masse for this BBQ every year. We're a small community of about 300 households. We try to look out for one another. Most issues at Shilshole revolve around a little too much alcohol, but we've had at least two known instances of stalking in the five years we've been here, too. What's really nice is knowing that we can call the Port of Seattle police for help, and the chances are, any one of the responders will be an officer we met at National Night Out.

Thank you to the Port of Seattle Police for the burgers and for indulging our curiosity with such patience. Thank you to the Shilshole Bay Marina staff for hosting all the festivities.

My favorite part of the evening? As we were walking back to our boat, we passed one of the police cars. Poking out of a briefcase in the front seat was a little stuffed pig. I wish I'd gotten a photo.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Martian Cake

Last night, the new Mars Rover Curiosity landed in Gale Crater on Mars. If you stayed up to watch the live feed from the JPL command center, you know just how underwhelming that simple sentence is. It was a stunning triumph crowning nearly 9 years of intense work (8 years leading to launch, 8 months of travel from Earth to Mars).

If you missed it, you can see the video, along with information about NASA's other space projects, on Many news outlets have pulled and posted the video of the landing. A nine minute version is up on NASA's Youtube channel: It's worth watching more than once. Take a look at how tense and nervous those scientists and engineers are. Count how many of them burst into tears when the signal comes back that Curiosity landed perfectly.

I did, too, along with a number of people who admitted it on Twitter.

Speaking of which, Twitter went NUTS on the #MSL tag. The traffic is still intense this morning as everyone waits for more information from Curiosity. Though, from what I understand, we're in a 12 hour communication black out window at the moment. If you want a glimpse at the first photo Curiosity sent back after landing, look here: (Not embedding photos I don't own into the blog - many of NASA's photos are free for use - but I'm not clear on these photos yet. We may need media release forms from any Martians captured in the image. Joking on that last one.) On NASA's news page, you can see a second photo from Curiosity, amid a collection of a few other snapshots. The one of Curiosity's shadow is my favorite, for no particular reason.

In the midst of watching the live feed last night, I realized that the last live feed I'd watched from NASA had to have been one of the Apollo landings. The space shuttle launches were timed in such a way that I couldn't watch them live because of school schedules and possibly because our school lacked either the motivation or the money for the students to watch in real time.

I so look forward to what Curiosity will tell us about Mars. Will Curiosity find stromatolites - fossilized algae mats - proving that the Red Planet did ONCE support life? Or will Curiosity hit the jackpot and find actual microbial life hiding in the Martian soil? Apparently, NASA's trying really hard not to hope for that. During a morning briefing, the panelists were quick to point out that Curiosity is a mobile chemistry lab. They have a nonstop list of experiments lined up for the rover, but 'finding actual life' isn't on their checklist.

Wouldn't it just be the icing on the Curiosity cake, though?

Why does this matter to me? Besides the fact that I'm a hopeless nerd, you mean? It's true. Finding out something we as a race didn't know until the moment it's revealed lights up my simple brain. On some level, it feels a little like an explosion inside, as if I've been forever changed by a piece of data. I guess that's true on a larger level, too. Every time humans learn something new, the entire race is changed. While individuals may remain ignorant, the body of knowledge available to humankind if expanded. Are we, on some level, expanded too?

It matters because every single thing that Curiosity tells us about Mars is fodder for another science fiction story, another flight of imagination fueled by an amazing feat of science and engineering. Last night's landing was an extraordinary treat.

Thanks, NASA.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Late Breaking News Flash!

We interrupt the scintillating drama of talking about boats to bring you this news flash:

It's RELEASE DAY for Rogue's Pawn by Jeffe Kennedy. This is the first book in The Covenant of Thorns series brought to you by Carina Press.

From Carina's website:

This is no fairy tale…

Haunted by nightmares of a black dog, sick to death of my mind-numbing career and heart-numbing fiancĂ©, I impulsively walked out of my life—and fell into Faerie. Terrified, fascinated, I discover I possess a power I can't control: my wishes come true.

"An enthralling, thrilling and seductive ride is the only way to describe Rogue's Pawn!"

Go have a look directly if you like. I'll wait. I can do that because I've read this book, you see. Those of you who love a good fantasy world - this is it. Magical, vivid, more than faintly creepy, and so much fun you won't want it to end. Just don't cut ahead of me in the line up for book two. I'd hate to have to hurt anyone.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sailing on More than One Hull

There's a saying among boaters: There are two kinds of boaters - those who have run aground and those who will.

If you're in a boat with a keel, you need to know how much you draw. This is a fancy way of saying 'how far down does the keel go in the water?' If you look back at the last post, you can see from the drawing that some keels hang deeper than others. If you're writing about a sailboat, your characters need to know what their boat draws (how deep the keel goes). Otherwise, they're going to be those boaters who WILL run aground.

Running aground can be no big thing, or it can be utterly devastating. During a cruise last summer, my husband and I listened on the VHF as a big power boat struck an unmarked reef (rocks) at high speed. That boat sank within an hour. Everyone made if off the boat and were rescued, but it was a stark reminder that you either have to know the waters were you cruise, or you have to know how to read your charts. Even then, you may not avoid running aground.

Most groundings in sailboats are at low speed and it's the keel that hits first. Not bad, really. Touching bottom with a piece of solid metal may take a bite out of the keel, but it usually doesn't result in a sinking. It's possible to hit hard enough to rip the keel right off the boat, but that's unusual and it does mean sinking. Most of the time, in the Puget Sound region, sailboats go aground in mud, which doesn't damage the boat. The problem is that if you go aground with the tide going out, your boat will settle over on one side until the tide turns and refloats it again. Not a catastrophe, generally, but uncomfortable.

What does this have to do with multihulls? Plenty. Trimarans have three hulls. The middle hull looks a lot like a monohull (most all the other sailboats out there), but it has two hulls out on either side. These boats have no keel at all as the pontoons on either side provide stability. Tris are faster then monohulls and can carry more sail area than a monohull of the same length. Because there's no keel, these boats can sail in much shallower water. It isn't uncommon for a monohull to draw six feet - meaning if the water depth goes to five feet and eleven inches, that boat will be aground. Multihulls without keels can draw as little as two feet. Some are even beachable. The disadvantage is that a trimaran is hard to dock because of it's beam (how wide it is). It can also be difficult to maneuver in tight spaces because of the width. Trimarans usually have a little less living space than similarly sized monohulls because the middle hull is usually the only living space and it's narrower than most monohulls. This one pictured here mitigates that by building the living space up and across all three hulls. This isn't common.

Catamarans have two hulls. Usually, both hulls contain living quarters with more living space built between the two hulls. Catamarans typically don't have keels, either. Instead, they rely on retractable centerboards or daggerboards. This boat pictured is a thirty-four foot Gemini catamaran that has daggerboards - one in either hull. This boat is beachable, though not all cats are. If you opt to put your characters in a catamaran, do a search and look at the different models out there. Most of the dealer sites will tell you whether a boat is beachable, or whether it had daggerboards as opposed to centerboards. Catamarans have a reputation for turtling. This means that while under sail, one hull comes up out of the water and the boat goes all the way over. The width of the boat is supposed to prevent that, but in enough wind, it's all too possible. Another Gemini in our region did flip while out in a squall that blew up 50mph winds. Everyone was fine, but that's what you call a bad day. If you're going to sail a catamaran, you must pay attention to the wind and to the boat. These boats can be fast and very comfortable - cats don't heel. They provide a very stable sailing platform. But you cannot push them when the wind speed starts to climb. Without a heavy keel underneath, once this boat starts going over, it's going over. It's up to the sailor to know enough to prevent it in the first place. That said, these boats are very safe so long as the sailors know when to reef (reduce sail area) and/or when to get the heck out of the weather if they can.

In a catamaran, accommodations go down either hull. In the Gemini, the galley (kitchen) is in the starboard hull. The master cabin is forward where that first row of windows is. In the port hull is the navigation table and the head (forward). Two double cabins are aft in either hull. The settee and table are up between the hulls and the cockpit is in back. You can explore the boat on the builder's website. Again, search on catamarans and you'll find all kinds of them out there in the world. You should be able to find one that suits your story and your characters.

Next Up: Power Boats

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Best Laid Plans

I'd promised a post about multihulls. I'd intended to have that for you on Thursday. Then I got a phone call from my husband. "Hi, hon. First, I'm okay. Second, I was in an accident." He'd been driving home. A petroleum tanker truck changed lanes right into him. Fortunately, it was a low speed accident. They were in the city at a spot where the road goes beneath an underpass. DH had no where to go to escape being hit. No damage to either driver. No damage to the tanker truck. The driver's side of our car? Well. Peeled a good bit of that. It's fixable. But the car is twelve years old. It will likely cost more to fix it than the car is worth. So we started the insurance claim process and began shopping for a replacement car.

Saturday morning, during an all too brief sunny patch, DH and I took the cats out on the dock. They wandered and rolled and sniffed the warm air. And then, Erie, our 17 year old, deaf gal fell off the dock into the water. We've had a cat fall in once before. He popped right back up, head above water and swam. Not Eratosthenes. She hit the water and panicked. She began spinning, unable to tell which way was up. She sank fast. DH sprinted to her, threw himself down on the dock and could only barely reach her. He grabbed her by the tail and hauled her up.

I got there in time to gather her up in my arms, and realize she'd inhaled some sea water. Instantly, I switched my hold on her - her butt up near my shoulder and her head hanging down at my waist. Water drained out of her lungs through her nose.

We rushed her inside and wrapped her in towels while we heated fresh water. Puget Sound water temperatures run about 50 degrees. We knew we had to get the cat warmed up, so DH filled the kettle and put it on the stove. It takes very little time to warm water to a comfortable bath temperature. As I was already soaked through with sea water, I took the cat and the kettle into the head for a warming, freshwater rinse down.

Erie wasn't at all impressed with the need to rinse the saltwater out of her fur, never mind that the water was warm. I bundled her up in a fresh towel to begin drying her off, but by this time, she'd recovered enough and had gotten mad enough that she wanted nothing more to do with me. She stomped off, her fur standing out in stiff spikes, and found a secluded location where she could lick herself dry. We tried to help by applying the blowdryer, but that merely offended her further.

For anyone writing about boats, falling into the water is one of the dangers. Most boaters are very good about wearing life jackets while the boat is moving. Few of us wear life jackets just walking around the docks or while working on our boats while at dock. Yet, according to the paramedics who responded when my dad fell in (that's another story for the post specifically about lifejackets) said that 90% of all accidental 'in the water' incidents happen at dock. A number of pet companies make life preservers for dogs. These are jackets with big loop handles on the back, so you can grab hold and lift the animal out. No one seems to make them for cats - assuming you could convince a cat to wear one anyway.

Madam Erie will no longer go out on the dock without a halter and leash. If I could find or make a little kitty-sized life preserver, she'd never go out without that on, either.

Really. Next time. I promise you some info about multihulls.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Keeping Upright

Last week, we covered types of sailboats and some of the general principles of sailing. Today, it's time to trot out that law of physics most of us know so well: For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. It's the short way of saying that if you apply force to sails on top of the boat, you want something under the boat opposing that force. Otherwise, you end up with an upside down boat.

These drawings are of the different types of keels that can be bolted to the structure of a sailboat. The important part is that if you're getting into the details of writing about keels, you'll want to know that certain keels go with certain boats. Full keels are usually on blue water cruisers. The fin and bulb keel is popular on racing boats. Coastal cruisers and day sailers can have just about any kind of keel, though most of them will look like C or D.

A keel provides a force to counter the wind in the sails. The more the wind blows and the farther over a boat heels, the more the keel is lifted from vertical. Gravity (and water resistance) wants to push that heavy keel back to vertical. Most of the time, this balancing act is sufficient to keep most boaters out of the drink. But it is entirely possible to overcome the righting moment of the keel. Get too much sail up in too much wind, and you risk a knock down. This is when the force of the wind in your sails overpowers the weight of the keel and the boat falls all the way over on it's side. The sails can end up in the water, as can the sailors. When that happens, though, all of the wind spills out of the sails. The  weight of the keel is hanging out there on the horizontal. Chances are excellent that the boat will right itself. Usually with a crash. The sails will fill again, but if no one is on the helm, the boat will round up  into the wind and come to a stop. In theory. In reality, people occasionally drown this way. Not often, but it happens, especially in transoceanic races.
It's also possible to roll the boat entirely. If you end up in a storm in open ocean, you want to keep your bow to the waves (using a drogue or a storm anchor). If the waves are big enough and they catch you broadside, you can find yourself upside down, your keel vertical in the air and the sails underwater. Most boats go to the bottom when that happens.
Keels do a couple of other things for a sailboat. It's inertial mass that provides 'bite' in the water. This means that the baot is moving, the mass in that keel wants to keep moving. This gives a sailboat the speed and power to tack. In a tack, you sweep your bow across the direction the wind is coming from. It's possible to do that manuever so slowly that you lose momentum, the wind grabs control of you and you end up in irons. Keels help prevent that to a large degree. They're also designed to keep a boat from sliding sideways in the water.
When you're on a beam reach - with the wind coming from the side - the keel in the water that keeps the wind from blowing you off course. (In reality, over long distances, you DO get blown a bit off course - boats do slip sideways a bit regardless of the keel, but in most cases, unless your characters are doing ocean passages, you won't deal with it.) 
Most monohulls (all the sailboats I've shown you so far are monohulls - one hull boats) can enter a marina under power, turn into a waterway and put the engine in neutral and simply glide into their position at dock because of the momentum. Other boats, especially power boats with little hull real estate below the water line skate around on the surface of the water, more at the mercy of the wind. Granted, they have massive engines to make up for that.
If you live near water, it pays to pack a picnic lunch and head down to watch the sailboats on a nice, breezy day. You're especially lucky if the marina has either a junior racing team or a sailing school. Many of these organizations put people in little 12-15' sailboats that can be easily upset. Watch them long enough and you'll see someone push a boat just a little too far. The whole thing will go over (this is a knockdown). The little boat probably won't right itself. The sailor will likely have to swim over, pull the sails off, get the boat upright and then climb back in and set up sails again.

If you're really interested in understanding sailing, look up sailing schools in your area. Most schools have introductory classes for about $100. The aim is to get you out on the water and teach you the basics in a coulple of weekends. It would be enough for you to get a feel for sailing.

Next: multihulls

Friday, June 15, 2012

Working in 1376

Taking a break from sailing jargon, I'm over at the Word-Whores today (again, safe for work and totally PG-13 this week) talking about the weirdest job I've had. Let's just say it was in 1376.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's Not a Sail, It's a Wing

As a complete aside, we had a California Sea Lion in the marina yesterday. I didn't think they ever came into the marina. Clearly I was wrong. These are HUGE animals. Males can be up to 350lbs. Females range up to 220lbs. These guys can be aggressive. Sail too close and you'll have several hundred pounds of pissed off sea mammal sharing your boat with you. It won't be a good thing. WA State law requires us to stay at least 100 feet away from them. The sea lions usually hang out on the rocks and the mooring bouys outside of the marina - there's really nothing inside to interest them. The fish are too small. So I can only assume that the single sea lion who ventured down our waterway yesterday was merely sightseeing. And fussing at those of us gaping at him from the dock.

Let's get to sailing. The picture above is of a sailing sloop sailing into the wind - reasonably close hauled to the wind, too. He's on a port tack, flying a jib, so there's probably a good solid wind blowing. The boat's heeled, but not too much, and there's no lough visible in the sails, so this boat is sailing efficiently.

What did I just say? What does it mean and how the heck can I tell?

Sails function a bit like a bird's wing or an airplane wing. If you stick your hand out of the car window, you can make it ride up or down based on the tilt of your palm. Sails are the same - except they're horizontal. The sails force the wind to change direction. Energy is transferred to the sails and the boat is pulled through the water. That's right - pulled. The only time a boat is pushed is when it is sailing downwind. Sailing downwind, the boat cannot exceed the speed of the wind. Tacking, or sailing into the wind, where your sails are actually pulling you, the boat can go faster than the speed of the wind - though, really, there are a number of practical limits on that. Let's just say that five to six knots is very good speed for a 30-35 foot sailboat.

Sailboats require wind. No wind, no go. The smaller and lighter the boat, the less wind it requires. The smaller and lighter the boat, the less wind it can safely handle. Wind comes from a specific direction, which depending on your location, may change through the day. In the Pacific Northwest, our prevailing wind patterns blow from the south (which equals rain) or from the north (which usually means fair weather). If you're writing about sailboats, you'll want to know a bit about usual wind patterns for the region you're writing about. Weather Underground produces a very good marine forecast that gives you wind and wave information for just about anywhere.

For our purposes, assume our wind is from the north at 15 knots (about 17mph). No sailboat on earth will be able to sail directly into that wind. Sails must be at an angle to the wind in order to fill with wind and produce motion. Sort of like when you have your hand out the window of the car and hold it flat. It isn't until you tilt your hand that the wind forces it up or down. In a boat, heading into the wind just makes the sails flap around. It's called "being in irons". We head into the wind on purpose under engine power to raise and lower sails because at that point of sail, there's no tension on the sails.

When sails are set, meaning raised and their halyards (the lines that raise and lower sails are halyards) secured, the person at the helm 'falls off'. No. This does not mean landing in the water. You fall off the wind - this is tilting the sails to catch the wind. Imagine a compass. Put your wind from the north at the 0 point. In order for the wind to fill your sails and get you out of irons (into motion), you'll have to turn away from the 0 point by several degrees. It doesn't matter which way you turn. Here. If you look at the diagram below, you can see that boats have to turn 30 degrees or more off the wind direction in order to go anywhere. Look at how the sails change direction as the boat turns away from the wind. Now look at the photo at the top again. See how his sails are tight into the center of the boat? That's how you know know he's close hauled. You can also call that 'tight into the wind'. If your sailor isn't paying attention and rounds up into the wind a little too much, it's called 'pinching' and unless it's corrected by falling off, you'll end up back in irons.

Now, directions. Port and starboard refer to the left side and right side of the boat if you're facing the bow (front). Port and left both have four letters. That's the easiest way to remember that. Look at the photo at the top again. See how the sails are billowed out to the starboard side? This means the wind is coming from port. A port tack simply means that the wind is coming over your port rail to fill your sails. Please note that currently, Wikipedia has this definition if not wrong then terribly misleading - it says 'sailing to the left'. And while there's argument that this is technically okay, it's dreadfully difficult to keep straight. You'll be MUCH happier (and sound saltier) if you refer to a tack as the direction the wind is coming from. Is the wind coming over your port rail? Port tack. If it's coming over your starboard rail, you're on a starboard tack.

The last two things we haven't mentioned: How do I know the boat at the top is using a jib rather than a genoa as a headsail? By looking at the sails. In that photo, see how his front sail (headsail) is smaller than his main? Jibs are sails cut smaller and with less bag than a genoa and are designed to handle higher wind speeds. Genoas are bigger sails. Here's a photo of a boat sailing with a genoa. For bragging rights: What tack is he sailing?
See how much fuller this sail is? It's much rounder, designed to catch as much wind as possible. You can also tell there's no much wind in this photo because the sea is pretty flat all around this boat. They aren't going five or six knots. They're lucky if they're doing two or three.

Loughing (say luffing) is when your sails start flapping a bit. It needn't be much, but it means that the air traveling over the surface of your sails isn't smooth. It's not a disaster, but it does mean you're sacrificing a bit of efficiency and possibly speed to lost energy. This photo shows well-trimmed sails - notice how smooth the sails look? There's no lough. Granted, the photo is a moment in time and there may have been all kinds of loughing two seconds after the picture.

Heeling - this refers to the sailboat leaning over while under sail. Compare the two photos. The one on top is leaning over pretty far. The boat on the bottom isn't. (It would be easier to tell if we could see this boat head on rather than from the side - but you can also look at freeboard - the amount of hull out of the water). This bottom boat's pretty flat.

What keeps sailboats from falling all the way over? About 2,000lbs of iron or lead underneath. Next post: Keels, heeling, and knockdowns. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sail Boats for Writers

On Twitter yesterday, I got to assist another writer with a few maritime navigational requirements. After all was said and done, I realized what a complicated set of information exists for boats and for boating. So, in the interest of being semi-useful, here's a primer on modern sailboats. Different rigging configurations have different names. 'Rigging' refers to the mast(s) and the shrouds (wires) supporting the mast(s). The diagram at left gives you the idea. Most sailboats you see in the US are Sloops - they have one mast which carries the mainsail, and one forward shroud that carries the headsail. The second most common sailboat rig is the Cutter. It has one mast, but two shrouds in front, allowing for two headsails. The third most common rig is the ketch. If you look at the diagram, it's tough to tell the difference between the ketch and the yawl. Here's the difference: On a ketch, the shorter mast is stepped forward (in front of) the rudder post (where the rudder attaches to the boat). On a yawl, that mast is aft (or behind) the rudder post. On the west coast of the USA, I have never seen a yawl. Plenty of ketches. Not a single yawl. It's possible that you'll see a few yawls on the east coast.

What's the point of all the different rigs? Flexibility. A cutter has more sail plan options than a sloop. A ketch has yet more sail plan options. The trade off is that you have to carry more canvas (sails) the more options you have, which means more weight and more messing with sails. Sloops are popular because they're relatively easy. Most sloops carry four sails, a main, a jib (smaller, for lots of wind), a genoa (bigger for lighter wind) and a chute (or a spinnaker - the big, colorful sails you sometimes see flying way out in front of a boat - these are for running down wind only). Cutters and ketches carry more sails than that.

The type of boat you put your hero and heroine into depends on how they intend to use the boat. In brief, sailboats are divided into three kinds of uses: Day sailers, Coastal Cruisers and Blue Water boats. Day sailers are just that - smaller boats meant to be taken out in reasonable weather just for the fun of zipping around on the water. These boats are usually 25 feet in length or less. They have fewer amenities. Coastal Cruisers are boats of any size, though usually between 25 and 40 feet, designed to let you sail from port to port. They'll have things like berths (beds), a head (toilet) and a galley (kitchen), but they aren't designed for ocean crossings. People DO cross oceans in coastal cruisers, but the boats aren't designed specifically for that. Blue Water boats are built to cross oceans. They can be any size, but the construction is heavier. They tend to be slower boats as a result. But they're designed to handle just about anything (please note the 'just about') the ocean throws at them. These boats have berths, a galley and a head. The cookstove will be gimbaled (put on a series of pivot points so it stays relatively level regardless of wave and boat motion). Inside an ocean going sailboat, you'll likely find teak hand rails in the headliner (hooked into the ceiling). As a whole, these boats have more tankage - bigger water tanks or they have a water maker to keep fresh, drinkable water onboard. Some world cruisers swear that crossing an ocean in anything smaller than a 40 foot boat is uncomfortable, though plenty of people do it.

As you may imagine, cost increases as you move from Day Sailer to Coastal Cruiser to Blue Water. It isn't merely a function of how big the boat is, either, but that's a post for another day. Next up: How sails work.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Confessions of a Wannabe Intellectual

I like to pretend I'm reasonably bright. Feeling smart must be akin to the high people get from some illicit drugs - it's intoxicating and addictive. I intimate that I've not tried recreational drugs because a single shot of epinephrine as an 11 year old impressed upon me in a dramatic way that not being able to temper my physical and emotional responses to a drug equaled very bad trip. Long way of saying I'm a coward. Though, truth be told, it's possible I repackaged that as 'too smart to make that mistake' while I was an insufferable high schooler. Surprise, surprise, being a judgemental ass didn't contribute to my popularity.

Regardless. My point was that somewhere along the line, someone told me I was clever and I got hooked on the feeling. I want my writing to be intelligent, not just intelligible. I want my characters to be smart. But as it happens, writing a book that someone says is cerebral and subsequently trying to write such a book again? Two excrutiatingly different things. Trying to write something intelligent turned into the most constipated, dead sounding prose imaginable. The word count went no where.

What's an addict to do? Hard to prove you're brilliant when you can't string four words together on a WIP. Finally, a daily wordcount challenge put forth by Laura Bickle and Jeffe Kennedy (ostensibly to get Laura going on her WIP - it did - she's kicking our butts) forced me to concede two things.
  1. I could make wordcount or I could pretend to be smart. I could not simultaneously do both.
  2. I had to accept that the inside of my head is a very messy place.
Word count has begun to accummulate again and, boy, those words are a trainwreck. Twisted, convoluted, shattered metaphors, similes strewn all over, that might even be a body over there in the corner of that last page...But writing is happening.

Maybe I don't want to write smart. Maybe I want to just write and save the dulled blade of intellect for fixing the mess I've made.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Love While Ye May

Madam Erie had a bath yesterday. She wasn't impressed. In fact, no matter where you are in the United States, you might have heard her opinion on the matter. I wouldn't have subjected her to the indignity except that she's old, arthritic, and we've just learned, heading into chronic renal failure. Her coat was greasy, dirty and matted. With her kidneys challenged, her skin needs to be kept clean so it can assist in detoxing her system to some small degree. We switched on the onboard water heater, and snuck around gathering the towels and soap while debating the potential retributions the cat might visit upon us after the deed was done.

As with many things, gathering my courage was harder than the actual activity. No blood was shed. That isn't to say that the wet, soapy, slippery cat didn't try to make a dash for it at every opportunity. She did. But I prevailed. A much cleaner, sweeter smelling and totally PISSED OFF Eratosthenes emerged to be wrapped in towels and fussed over. She wasn't buying what we were selling. It took most of the day for her double coat to dry - double coat means she has layers, the guard hairs you see and a shorter, denser undercoat. She wanted DOWN and far away from anything on two legs.

I was loathed for an entire two hours.

She forgave me when I showed her a sunny spot for her snoozing pleasure. And today, the entire thing is a bad memory. It's clear she feels better now that her coat is cleaner.  Of course, it won't be the last bath. It can't be. Her disease is a process. Caring for her is also a process, one that's lasted thus far for seventeen years. As a friend once said, "You love 'em while you've got 'em,  then you give them back to Bast." That's our plan.

As for retribution? Erie spent a few hours last night howling, just to be certain we comprehended the depths of her post bathtime despair. Bribes eventually satisfied her thirst for vengenace, however, and we arrived at detente in time for lights out.

That's when the cat snuck around and left a ginormous hairball right in the middle of the hallway for me to step on in the middle of the night.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Write Genre

It's Word Whores day, today (content is 100% PG, I swear). We're discussing the question of why all seven of us write what we write and wherein I compare my writing to Looneytunes. Which may be really, really presumptuous.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Coping with Rejection

I'm at the Darker Temptations blog today, where I'm owning up to how I deal with rejection. I'd love to have you stop by and offer up your advice. Chocolate is welcome, too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cover for Enemy Mine

It was a priority-two alert for beautiful Commander Cashel Khaleize: a contract put out on the life of Xiao Zhong. Professionally, Xiao was the Captain she reported to. Personally, he was man she desired. But as female Guild Assassin Mekise Tollenga closes in, Xiao wonders if even Cashel can be trusted with his safety. And with a tenuous bond between them, Cashel wonders how far she’s willing to go to earn that trust.

Do the cover gods at Berkley love me, or what? Heaven knows I love this cover. ENEMY MINE is set in the same universe as ENEMY WITHIN and ENEMY GAMES. If you've read the first novel (ENEMY WITHIN) you may recognize the hero of this sexy novella. This story is hot. It is has some very minor BDSM elements to it. The story will be available April 3rd from the vendor of your choice in e-formats only. Several booksellers already have the novel listed for pre-order.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Oh, Temptation

A few weeks ago, the DH ordered a new laptop online. During the course of the transaction, he input my cellphone number. The computer company promptly passed that cellphone number to its outsourced marketing group. Which has been calling my phone daily in a vain attempt to get me to purchase an extended warranty.

Now, DH using my cell phone number in this fashion is completely legit. It used to be our home phone number. You know. When we had a house. And a land line. So while it's now a cell phone that lives in my pocket and that runs my life, it is still ostensibly the family phone number. That doesn't mean I want phone calls trying to find out how I intend to vote (tell you what - check back in November, k?) or trying to convince me to buy some widget or another.

I've stopped answering 800 numbers, blocked numbers, or numbers I don't recognize. If a call is from a real live person who actually wants to talk to me, they leave messages. My mystery 800 number didn't. A quick reverse look up and I knew who'd been calling at 10am every day for two weeks. It was at that point that my imagination kicked in and let me tell you.

The temptation to use my power for evil rather than for good is compelling.

Now, I am SO tempted to answer that call. Here's my imagined script:

Marketeer: How do you like that new computer?
Me: What computer?
Marketeer: You bought a model xyz brand abc computer on this date.
Me, putting on grim voice: Oh, I get it. I'm sorry. What's the name on the invoice?
Marketeer gives me my DH's name.
Me: Who did you say you were with again? I'm going to need all of your information for the police report since this is clearly a violation of the restraining order on my ex.
At this point, I have a mental bet with myself that my marketeer would hang up on me.

I haven't actually pulled this stunt. And I won't. It's turned into a story idea, though. That's all it will remain - a work of fiction. I don't want to belittle, make light of, or abuse a system put in place to protect those people who are actually being preyed upon.

Course, another bonus for me: Here it is, Monday afternoon and no phone call from that 800 number. Maybe after two weeks of unanswered calls, they finally figured out I didn't want to talk to them?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Day

We've had several questions about what it's like to be aboard the boat in the snowy, blowy weather currently hitting the pacific northwest. In general, the answer is - not a whole lot different from being in a house - except that when the wind blows, our house bobs around on the water. We have heat. So we're warm and cozy inside. Outside, not so much. The wind has risen to 20-25mph. Snow is still slanting in, hissing over the fiberglass. It sounds ominous. We take the hint and venture outdoors as little as possible. The nice thing about Seattle is that we aren't particularly good with snow because we don't have to be. We can hunker down for a day and wait for it to go away. That's the forecast. 40 degrees and raining by Friday. Yay. Seattle isn't built for this nonsense. Now. On to the photos:

This is the view out the starboard side window. You can see the snow is melting off the boats - all of the boats have some heat inside and little insulation. So our heaters end up melting the snow. We went from solid white windshields this morning to rivulets of snow melt this afternoon.

This is out our door. You're looking at my neighbor's dock box and dinghy. Yes. The sky really is that color and it's a solid, unbroken mass of that color with small, stinging pellets of snow driven on the wind. Not much accummulation, really, but it is more than it looks like in this photo.

Same shot, wider angle. This photo is crooked because I'm standing on the boat and the wind is bobbing us around on the water. Yeah. The water is indeed the same color as the steel pole in the foreground. 

This is our dinghy. Resolution isn't what I'd like, but really. That's 3+" of snow on the 1' above sea level. I can't say this storm is a nonevent - because there will inevitably be a series of hilarious and painful Youtube videos about people who attempted to drive in this stuff. Hilly terrain and wet, heavy snow = auto insurance nightmare. But really, about the only thing we'll get out of this is a really spectacular flood on Friday, Saturday and Sunday when the rain comes back in to wash it all away. A bunch of the farmers in the flood plains are already bracing.

For us, though, it's a lazy day of tea and comparing notes with the family to see who still has power. By Friday, this will all be a memory. Which is good. I need to go to the grocery store.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Baker's Dozen. Bonus Nerd Holiday Goodness

If you didn't see the 12 Days of Nerd Christmas, hie thee to author Laura Bickle's blog. You can scroll through the days. Each offering is geekier than the last. Notice anything missing? I mean, there's kryptonite. And a Zombie Apocalypse ready Barbie. But where are the zombies??

Don't you worry, cookie. I got your zombies. Right here. Behold.

These horrifying menaces came to me courtesy of Jen Barrick. I plagued Jen for an online source for her cookie cutters, but alas. That has proven elusive. She found the zombie gingerbread cutters at a local grocery store, then provided proof of life after death with the telling blood red gel icing. Sheeyeah. Icing. Suuuure it is.

As to the rumors circulating that I have since been infected with the zombie plague? All I can say is these little guys sure were tasty.